According to a new report, police shouldn’t be allowed to strip search those who are suspected of being in the possession of drugs. However, the data showed that more than 90 per cent of all searches conducted were for this reason.
Commissioned by the Redfern Legal Centre, the report also pushes against strip searching from police on minors in the field, unless an order from the court has been issued. This comes as one of the many recommendations put forward to reform a practice that has been labelled as “degrading” and “humiliating”.
Recently released by the University of NSW, the paper titled Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police urges guidelines and laws to be tightened, as they are currently not effective enough in protecting the public from “unnecessary strip searches”.
Authors Michael Grewcock and Vicki Sentas said a majority of strip searches pose a significant violation to the integrity of the person that’s involved. Despite this, these incidents are increasing across the state. In fact, the number of searches has risen by almost 50 per cent between the years 2014 and 2018.
Earlier this year, the Herald reported that the NSW Police had admitted to the circulation of an internal document that noted officers had been breaching their privileges and powers towards conducting strip searches.
At the launch of the report, Newcastle’s Lucy Moore, 19, will speak out about her incident involving a strip search at a Sydney music festival, where she was also thrown out, despite not being in possession of any illegal items.
As a result of her complaint across social media, the incident was reviewed by police.
Police officers can currently conduct a strip search in the field if it is deemed necessary due to “seriousness and urgency” circumstances. This is the regulation that falls under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002.
More importantly, the paper also notes that even the slight possession of an illicit drug doesn’t give enough legal justification to warrant a strip search, despite figures proving suspicion was the number one reason for searches across 2018-19’s financial period (91 per cent).
Authors of the report note that strip searches in the field should be limited only to circumstances where it is absolutely necessary to eliminate risk of danger to personal safety or to prevent losing any evidence. They also urge that the limitations relate only to suspicion the possession of drugs or a dangerous weapon with the above severity in mind.
A NSW Police spokesperson responded to questions put forward by the Herald where they noted that police found many patrons at music festivals had secreted large quantities of illegal drugs either internally or in their underwear. This included an 18-year-old female who had concealed 394 MDMA pills internally.
The authors are also asking for LEPRA to be altered to provide clear-cut examples of situations where strip searches are necessary, including a definition that should feature circumstances where a person’s underwear is also inspected. In these cases, someone is required to lift their top up or pull aside their bra.
The NSW Police spokesperson said that in just 2018 alone, 93 knives and a firearm, as well as illicit drugs (across 1553 cases) were detected during field strip searches.
They also encouraged for searches to be altered so that the person being subjected to the search is made aware of their legal rights, and must provide consent in order for it to move any further.
Currently, NSW Police are allowed to strip search minors as young as 10, and in almost 300 cases, children were the actual target (during 2016-18 financial years).
The report notes that children shouldn’t be searched unless there is grounds for serious and genuine child protection pretenses, as well as it being mandatory for an adult (outside of the police) to be present.
The spokesperson responded saying there are additional protective guidelines for children and if a person is deemed vulnerable, police must comply with empathy and respect.
You can read the full response from the NSW Police here:
The NSW Police Force is responsible for enforcing legislation on drug and weapon possession and supply. Police officers do not enjoy carrying out strip searches, but it is a power that has been entrusted to us and searches reveal drugs and weapons.In 2018 alone, police detected a firearm and 93 knives or sharp cutting instruments, as well as illicit drugs on 1553 occasions during field strip searches. People who are trying to hide such items frequently secrete them in private places, and the only way to locate them is by a strip search, which may involve asking the person to squat.
During this season’s music festivals, police found many persons had secreted trafficable quantities of illegal drugs in their underwear or internally, including an 18-year-old woman who internally concealed 394 MDMA pills. When police initially form a reasonable suspicion, they cannot know the quantity of drugs in a person’s possession and whether they are for personal use or for the purpose of supply.
The use of drug-detection dogs in operational policing is a highly specialised field and NSWPF is committed to ensuring that our training is the best it can be and that the use of drug-detection dogs reflects world’s best practise. Police are trained not to rely solely on a drug-detection dog indication when they exercise their search powers.
Drug-detection dogs are a vital tool for detection of drugs, particularly at large-scale events. Over the last five years, in 85% of searches (and 82% of strip searches) following a drug-detection dog indication, either drugs were found on the person or the person admitted to recent use or possession.
In recent years, the frequency and size of music festivals has increased. Notwithstanding this, field strip searches represent fewer than 1% of the total number of all searches in NSW.
To put the numbers of searches in context, there were 71 music festivals and dance parties in 2017, attracting 390,000 people. In that year, there were 983 strip searches. That represents strip searching of 0.0025% of attendees. Only about 20% of strip searches are initiated following a drug-detection dog indication.
The majority of person searches carried out by police are not strip searches.A strip search can only be undertaken when a police officer has the state of mind required by LEPRA. The legislation contains safeguards to preserve the privacy and dignity of members of the public. There are additional safeguards for children and vulnerable people with which police must comply; officers are trained to deal with the public in a respectful and empathetic manner.
The NSW Police Force Person Search Manual is the principal document for the carrying out of person searches.
It provides guidance as to when and how personal searches must be carried out, as informed by legislation, the common law, and NSWPF policy.Training for police in how to undertake a person search occurs at the Police Academy and is reinforced in a number of forums throughout an officer’s career.
Anyone who feels they have been unlawfully searched, or feels an officer has not acted appropriately, should report their concerns to the senior officer at that location in the first instance and, if not satisfied, they can complain to their local police station or online here.